How to survive the winter in Suzhou

I should have written this post earlier, as normally it starts getting chilly in November, but this year we have had a gentle winter. Now it is starting to get cold, but I am not sure if we will have another polar wave like last year’s, which fried the poor plants I had in the balcony.

Obviously, Suzhou doesn’t get as cold as the cities in the north of China. But we have a disadvantage… there is no central heating here and houses are badly insulated, so it can get quite cold inside your apartment. Do you know that warm feeling when you get home after being outside on a winter day? Well, you will not get that in Suzhou as it is often as cold inside as outside.

Am I painting a very bleak picture? Fret not! I have (more or less) successfully survived several winters in Suzhou and Shanghai, so I have some tips for you.

1. Get an apartment with heating

Rumour says there are apartments with heating in Suzhou, but I am not one of the Chosen Ones. I have never seen these mythical apartments. It seems most of them have floor heating and the electricity bill might give you a heart attack, but it is probably worth it if you can sit in your sofa with less than 5 layers of clothes.

I found out recently that it is actually possible to install a kind of heating without having to knock down walls and in only 2 days. I will consider it if I have a baby, but I am pretty scared of doing anything that involves bringing builders home as I have witnessed how careless and dirty they are.

If you can’t get an apartment with heating, then let’s review the more traditional methods.

2. Hot air con to the max

We don’t have heating, yes, but at least we have air conditioning machines with winter functionalities (i.e. hot air). If not I would have probably become an ice lolly by now. Interestingly, many Chinese old people avoid turning the air con on and they prefer to look like the Michelin doll with 30 layers of clothes. I guess they are used to it, but most probably they also do it to save money! Hot air con is not the best heating method, as hot air goes up and your feet remain cold, but at least it’s something.

3. Chinese style winter pajamas

At first I despised them because, let’s be honest, they don’t look very good. But after trying them I have to say they won me over. I don’t know what they are made of, but it’s warm. And it is completely acceptable to go outside in them. No one will even look at you!

But don't forget to pair the pajamas with this "high class lady going to have tea with her friends" hairdo.

And don’t forget to pair the pajamas with this “high class lady going to have tea with her friends” hairdo.

4. Long johns

Starting around October, all Chinese people start wearing their long underwear. In Spain I never had to wear it (and had only seen it in movies about the Far West) but here it is a must. Usually people (both men and women) wear a two piece set of pants and t-shirt. It is very unsexy but it will keep you warm. For the coldest months it’s better to use the ones that have fuzz on the inside.

I loved this slogan: "A fire in winter".

I loved this slogan: “A fire in winter”.

5. Electric slippers

I haven’t tried them yet because C. fears they might explode, but they look like a very good idea to me. You plug them and they heat up. Best invention ever!


6. Other heating accessories

Good old hot water bottles (my inseparable winter bed mate #1), hot bottles that have some strange liquid inside and have to be plugged in to get hot, electric bed warmers (my inseparable winter bed mate #2), extra-large plasters that you stick to your body and mysteriously get warm, hot shoe soles, small packets with something strange inside that gets hot when you press them… All kinds of magical things can be found in Taobao.

Warm pads. Will they really get you on fire? I'll have to try!

Warm pads. Will they really get you on fire? I’ll have to try!

7. Other heating tricks

Wearing two or three pairs of socks, drinking tea or other hot drinks (you can also warm your hands while holding the cup), standing up and jumping for a couple of minutes until you start sweating… you gotta do what you gotta do to get an acceptable body temperature.

8. Bonus track: dancing

A few weeks ago C. got a game called Just Dance for PS4. As its name clearly indicates, it’s about dancing. Two songs and I have to start taking layers off! Great winter game.

What are your tricks for surviving winter?